This review contains big juicy spoilers. If you haven’t watched the episode yet, our spoiler-free version is here.
If you read the spoiler-free version of this review, you’ll already know that this writer thoroughly enjoyed the Gotham pilot. If the general vibe after the screening is to be believed, so did pretty much everyone else.
Writer/executive producer Bruno Heller and episode director Danny Cannon laid some excellent groundwork here which could well lead into a hugely enjoyable series if standards are kept up. When we first get our first glimpse of the gothic skyline of Heller’s Gotham in the swooping opening shot, it is broodingly, beautifully brilliant.
This isn’t a reincarnation of Christopher Nolan’s realistic rendering of Gotham City, nor a cheesy call-back to Adam West’s live action series, it is an expressionistic, gothic, cameo-heavy version which shares more of its visual DNA with Tim Burton’s movies than anything else. There were points at which the Arkham Asylum game came to mind, too.
First, we meet the young Catwoman, played by teenager Camren Bicondova. Milk is nicked, a getaway is made, and a fire escape is utilised for a disappearing act. Heck, someone has to do it if Batman isn’t around. This sequence sets up a playful strand to the show, which should be fun to explore further. The only worry is that too many sequences like this could see the show descend into kiddie melodrama.
Judging by the scene that follows, we shouldn’t worry too much about child’s play taking over proceedings though – undercutting Selina Kyle’s endearing milk theft is a reminder that Gotham City is most certainly not a nice place to live (the fact she witnesses this is probably significant too).
You may have already known that Bruce Wayne’s parents were set to meet their bullet-y demise in the opening episode, but seeing these familiar alleyway-set beats playing out in the opening five minutes certainly came as a shock. It’s a testament to young Bruce Wayne David Mazouz’s considerable acting chops that it still carries such an emotional punch without any set-up. It’s a neat way to establish the brutal, unforgiving nature of the city too.
The introduction of Ben McKenzie as James Gordon hits all the right notes too, while the show displays a lot of early confidence in its central premise (essentially, one honest ordinary man’s non-superpowered or gadget-enhanced attempt to clean up a crooked city). The mentally-unhinged crook looking for his ‘pills’ may be a bit of a criminal cliché, but the way McKenzie’s trying-hard-to-be-righteous Gordon handles it establishes his character nicely. The reaction of his superior officer Harvey Bullock similarly sets the tone for the rest of the episode.
Bullock, as played by Donal Logue, is one of the only elements of the show which isn’t yet fully convincing. He’s so corrupt, so against doing the right thing and so generally dickish that he seems like more of a trope than a character. Why would such a nasty bloke even want to become a cop in the first place? We hope that this is a deliberately unlikeable first impression from the writing team, and that this is just the beginning of a long arc which might allow a bit of regret and redemption.
We’re swept back to that fateful alleyway next, and given another strong introduction – this time for Wayne family butler Alfred Pennyworth as played by Sean Pertwee. While anyone hoping for a return of the Michael Gough-style poshness will be sorely disappointed, Pertwee’s incarnation is instantly likeable and good value for heart-warming moments and laughs alike.
With all these introductions, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no room for plot in this opening hour. Surprisingly though, there is. The central plot of Gordon and Bullock investigating the mystery behind Bruce’s parents’ deaths gathers a lot of momentum while Fish Mooney’s strife for power, the meddling of the (one-dimensional) Major Crimes duo and the impending fall-out of Gordon pretending to go bad and kill Oswald Cobblepot are all established fairly convincingly too.
Speaking of Oswald, what a truly show-stealing performance that was. While the glimpses of Riddler-in-waiting Edward Nygma, young Catwoman and junior Poision Ivy are all enjoyably titter-inducing fan service moments, Robin Lord Taylor’s unsettling, creepy introduction to Penguin-to-be Oswald is surely the stuff that huge online fandoms are made for. You’d think inheriting a character from a big name like Danny DeVito would be daunting, but Taylor seems to relish the opportunity to do something unique with the role. We really look forward to seeing where the character goes next.
While not everything works as well as Oswald (he totally outshines his not-particularly-intimidating boss Fish Mooney, for example), and there are a few logic-defying moments (if you’d been provably framed for murder, would you really not even have a stab at explaining that before getting yourself killed?), for the most part Gotham worked wonderfully. Central players and long-term plot arcs were introduced with infectious confidence, which you can’t help but be enthused by.
US readers – Gotham returns next Monday with a Selina Kyle-centric story. It reaches Channel 5 in the UK in October.
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